BREAKING NEWS Cal Fire on scene of a vegetation fire in the Lime Saddle Campground Full Story
BREAKING NEWS August Complex: 152 structures destroyed in Trinity County Full Story
SEVERE WX : Fire Weather Watch View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Passengers alleging racial discrimination sue American Airlines over Black man's removal from flight

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant had an emotional conversation about race with a passenger who later revealed he was the CEO of American Airlines.

Posted: Jun 23, 2020 7:31 AM
Updated: Jun 23, 2020 7:31 AM

American Airlines is being sued by five passengers who allege they were improperly removed from a flight because of racial discrimination by the airline.

American says it is investigating the incident but at this point it believes the allegations in the federal lawsuit are inaccurate.

The suit comes at a difficult time for airlines, which are trying to convince passengers that it is safe to fly again despite the pandemic, even if maintaining six feet of distance from other passengers is difficult on flights unless they are mostly empty. It also comes at a time when national protests about systemic racism are happening around the country.

The suit charges that one of the passengers, Elgin Banks, who is Black, asked if he could change seats on a Los Angeles to Phoenix flight on the evening of May 31. He said he wanted to provide more space between him and other passengers.

Banks said he was told by a flight attendant he would have to wait until after boarding had been completed before he could change seats. According to the suit, he saw White passengers changing seats once the boarding process was completed. Then, he asked a flight attendant if he could take a seat closer to the front of the plane. The suit alleges a flight attendant told him to sit down and lower his voice. Two of the other plaintiffs said he did not raise his voice, according to their affidavits. The flight attendant then called security to have him removed from the plane.

A statement from American says that Banks had asked to move into first class, and that he was not eligible for an upgrade. Banks denies asking for a first class seat in the lawsuit.

The other four passengers who brought the suit — three of whom the suit identifies as African American women and one as a White woman — objected to his removal, and they were ordered off the plane as well, according to the suit.

The incident caused American to cancel the flight altogether. The airline said passengers were given refunds or offered tickets on the flight the next day.

"The disruption on board required deplaning passengers," American said in its statement. "Discrimination of any kind is not acceptable and does not align with our values, which is why we launched an investigation when were made aware of the allegations. We are continuing to review this incident, but we believe that the allegations are not a full or accurate portrayal of the incident. All affected customers were provided with a hotel voucher unless they lived locally, as is our policy."

The suit says Banks never asked for a first class seat and referred to the allegation by the flight attendant that he had as a "perjurious lie."

The suit also alleges that after the five plaintiffs were removed from the plane, a security employee asked one of the Black plaintiffs, Cynthia Vassor, "Why would you want to fly with an airline that doesn't want you on their plane?"

The suit also alleges that the five plaintiffs in the suit were told by the airline they were banned from future travel on the airline, and that unlike other passengers the Black plaintiffs were not offered hotel vouchers. According to the affidavit of Natalie Epstein, the White plaintiff in the case, only she and one other White passenger who had objected to Banks' removal received hotel vouchers. American denies any of them were banned, and says all, including Banks, were offered hotel vouchers.

The incident occurred just days before CEO Doug Parker wrote to airline employees about the need to have White Americans do a better job of listening to the concerns of Black Americans.

He wrote an essay about a flight he had taken on another airline -- Southwest -- and about a conversation he had with an African American flight attendant on the flight.

The two had an emotional discussion during the flight, and the story of their encounter got a lot of news coverage.

"These are trying times," Parker wrote to American employees after his flight. "Our people are hurting. I'm not certain what all of the answers are, but I know it involves talking to each other. And listening. And it takes courage and leadership to start the conversation and to stand up for what is right. JacqueRae taught me all that. Please get out and talk to your teams today. Bring people together, not apart. We need caring leadership now more than ever."

Epstein, the White plaintiff in the case, said she saw the news reports about Parker's statements on race.

"The hypocrisy hurts," she said in her affidavit. "He could start by making things right for Elgin Banks."

American Airlines has had a spotty record on race relations in recent years.

In 2017, the NAACP went so far as to issue a travel advisory to Black airline passengers, saying that "booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them [to] disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions."

The airline responded by saying it would take steps to address those concerns, including having all employees take "annual implicit bias training."

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 790096

Reported Deaths: 15056
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2614466366
Riverside574191162
San Bernardino52649908
Orange522011128
San Diego44925760
Kern31509354
Fresno27769355
Sacramento21628383
Alameda20641374
Santa Clara20511297
San Joaquin19841415
Stanislaus16351337
Contra Costa15958201
Tulare15599256
Ventura12406143
Imperial11583314
San Francisco1080799
San Mateo9598143
Monterey955067
Santa Barbara8880110
Merced8750134
Kings743077
Sonoma7112114
Marin6591112
Solano617555
Madera439162
Placer348841
San Luis Obispo339327
Butte276435
Yolo275454
Santa Cruz22188
Sutter164210
Napa162613
San Benito131011
Yuba11187
El Dorado10734
Mendocino85118
Lassen7350
Shasta70914
Glenn5503
Nevada5116
Colusa5106
Tehama5094
Lake49210
Humboldt4856
Calaveras31114
Amador28616
Tuolumne2214
Inyo18714
Mono1652
Siskiyou1610
Del Norte1361
Mariposa752
Plumas490
Modoc240
Trinity150
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 72°
Oroville
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 75°
Paradise
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 73°
Chester
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 50°
Red Bluff
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 69°
Willows
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 72°
A small trough of low pressure moved over the Pacific Northwest on this first day of autumn, and it brought more gusty wind and an improvement to the air quality for most of us. The breezes will continue through the week, and other changes are coming soon.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events